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‘A monolith in the community’
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center turns 40
by Will Matuska
On Oct. 15 1983, Betty Ball found herself linked arm-in-arm with 17,000 others surrounding the Rocky Flats Plant, a nuclear weapons facility 10 miles south of Boulder.
“I was thrilled to get to be part of the encirclement. It was the first protest on that scale I was ever involved in,” says Ball, who also helped organize food delivery for protestors and sold T-shirts for the event.
“The encirclement” was organized by some of the soon-to-be founders of Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (RMPJC), a nonprofit organization advocating for “radically progressive personal and social change” rooted in nonviolence. One of the org’s key advocacy efforts is pointed toward nuclear disarmament.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of RMPJC and of the protest.
“There was an air of excitement [at the protest] that really can’t be explained — it was alive with excitement,” Ball says.
The Rocky Flats Plant was formally shut down in 1992 and has since been deemed an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site and cleaned up after hazardous and radioactive materials contaminated the site.
The encirclement and the establishment of RMPJC was only the beginning of Ball’s life of activism. After organizing in California for 13 years, Ball returned to Boulder and immediately got involved with RMPJC, where she worked for 22 years and is still on the board today. (She retired in 2020.)
Claire O’Brien, administrative director at RMPJC and recent CU Boulder graduate, says Ball’s commitment to the cause is inspiring.
“I think it really speaks to the organization, just that there’s people who have spent their entire lives continuing to support and be a part of the organization,” she says. “I really admire it, and it definitely makes [RMPJC] seem like quite the monolith in the community.”
RMPJC has used the momentum from its inception to spread advocacy efforts in the community, something O’Brien still sees in her outreach events today.
“Pretty much every time I’m out doing canvassing or tabling, I talk to people who have some personal connection to that encirclement,” O’Brien says.
Although the nuclear arms race is over, the organization still advocates against nuclear weapons today.
On Jan. 19, the organization presented a petition to the Boulder City Council urging them to sign a proclamation in support of the international Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
More than 70 municipalities and states have passed resolutions supporting the treaty, including Denver and Longmont; 86 countries have signed the treaty, but none of the nuclear nations have joined, including the U.S.
Ball believes nuclear arms is the greatest threat to our society, saying, “We’re not gonna have to worry about any of those other issues if somebody triggers the bomb.”
To highlight the anniversary and build support for their cause, O’Brien says RMPJC wants to bring activists in the community together “to try to touch on the feelings that were felt 40 years ago [during the encirclement], which was really hope and optimism.” The organization is planning to hold events this summer.
It’s O’Brien’s goal to rebuild that sense of community, support and togetherness despite struggling to get people involved — especially young people.
“Really what I think about the most is trying to get back to that level of community [at the encirclement],” she says. “We’re all so isolated now … and things are pretty separated.”
Ball and O’Brien will turn to the community to continue doing what RMPJC does best: rallying people under a common cause.
“The peace center has gone on for 40 years,” Ball says. “And we need to build now to continue it for another 40.”